November 28 2004, 8:10 PM
Are you good at resolving disputes? Have you always wanted to live in a small rural community? Do you only want to work part-time? Then a Delores County judgeship may be for you. On November 2, by just five votes, more than 1,000 residents of this tiny community of 1,800 voted out Judge Wendy Whicher, a former Denver lawyer appointed to the job by Governor Bill Owens, who has presided there for the past four years.
A quirk in state law requires a county judge to live in the county but doesn't require that the person be a lawyer, at least in counties with fewer than 35,000 residents.Some prior holders of the job:
...Bob Johnson, a local rancher, "a pretty good roper" and former sheriff who spent 20 years on the Dolores bench. Johnson followed William Paul Spitzer, a non-lawyer, who followed Helen Hicks, a non-lawyer who followed her husband, George, a lawyer.Delores County is in the southwestern corner of the state. Despite its tiny population, it spans 1,100 miles, making it comparable to the size of Rhode Island. You would work eight hours a week for a salary of $20,000. a year. Your duties would include presiding over traffic, misdemeanor, small claims and civil cases involving less than $15,000. You also would issue restraining orders. The initial term is two years, after which you would face a retention vote every four years. Sandy Weaver, the county's judicial administrator, reports that she has received only two inquiries so far: one from a lawyer and one from someone in Utah. Interested? You can contact her at: Sandra D. Weaver, District Administrator Twenty-Second Judicial District Montezuma County Courthouse 109 W. Main St., Room 210 Cortez, Colorado 81321 970-565-1111 One added note: Judge Whicher was the only judge up for retention in Colorado who was rejected by voters on November 2. She received unanimous endorsement from the 22nd Judicial Nominating Commission, a group composed of both attorneys and lay people. She reports being "devastated" by the vote. Does Delores County just not like outsiders, or what? Several county officials had praise for Whicher. The Sheriff of Delores County opined:
"I think the community is ready to see some stiffer sentencing," said Dolores County Sheriff Jerry Martin, adding the average citizen might not understand that a judge is limited by law when it comes to sentencing and different circumstances apply in each crime, even if charges might be identical. "I would have to hang my hat on that as a reason," Martin said. But the vote surprised him, he said, because he respected Whicher's knowledge and professionalism. "It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with her," Martin said.At least one resident believes Whicher was the victim of a conspiracy.
Dove Creek resident Bob Breedlove said the same, but believed a witch hunt was afoot. "I think there was a lot of underhanded misinformation," Bob Breedlove said Thursday. "If you tell the lie loud enough and long enough, pretty soon it becomes true."I first met Judge Whicher almost 30 years ago when she practiced law in Denver. Delores County is the real loser here. They just lost an honorable, dedicated and spirited public servant. Perhaps the ad for the job opening should include the warning, "Tenure decisions not related to performance."